Planning Is the Best Way to Improve the Quality of the Environment

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There is no agreed definition of ‘environmental planning’; most studies have had an arduous job in trying to meet a description for it as the environment covers a wide range of issues. In one sense, all Town and Country Planning is concerned with the environment. (Cullingworth & Nadin, 1997, p163) But as the issue of environmental concerns have risen up the political agenda a number of non-planning organisations have had an increasing role to play. It must be noted that the role planning in the environment is not a new instrument in its protection; The Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 prohibited the emission of dark smoke, in an effort to improve environmental quality.

This essay intends to discuss the main instruments use in the contemporary planning system in the UK, which are handed the task of protecting and improving the environment. It begins by briefly outlining the reasons why planning is used for environmental protection and its new role in promoting sustainability. These objectives are highlighted in recent government papers and are explored in the objectives outlined in LA21. The next section reveals how the planning system might be seen as failing these objectives and its shortcomings by a brief comparison with other nations, thus providing conclusions for the suitability of planning as the best way of improving environmental quality.

The United Kingdom’s Town and Country Planning system is the framework within which the development and use of land is determined. It provides a structure within which economic, social and environmental considerations can be weighed to help secure sustainable development. (DETR, 1996) Planning has been illustrated as the main advocate in achieving sustainable development; it is placed with the task to guide suitable development within a sustainable context via its development control methods. This seems an obvious choice as the framework within the UK planning system is already in place to successfully implement policy on sustainable development, throughout all levels of government. Traditionally the Town and Country Planning system in the UK has had a pro-development bias, it is argued that in order to improve and maintain the environment, planners have to alter this ethos to accept greener issues.

What has always been apparent within the realms of environmental planning is the major role that politics plays. Indeed Britain’s reluctance in environmental concerns was partly due to the conservative regimes of promoting a market-led economy, free of state intervention, it was not until the 1980s that the ‘environment’ rose up the political agenda with the potential of being a major vote winner. Before which, it was argued by Thatcher that environmental planning had be taking place for some years via the planner’s use of material considerations. The Conservative government took a dramatic u-turn and its views on state free from intervention were quashed as it accepted the terms outlined in 1992 Earth Summit. The conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted talks for one hundred and fifty nations, it was at this conference where sustainability found a structure, in Agenda 21. The following section discusses the issue of sustainable development and its implementation through Agenda 21, outlining the responsibility of the UK planning regime to enhance and protect the environment.

Sustainable Development & Agenda 21

It is argued that the UK Sustainable Development Strategy should be viewed as providing the guiding principles for environmental planning in the UK. Sustainability is seen as one of the main advocates for providing planning policies that protect and provide quality environments throughout the UK.

It is certainly true that the issue of sustainability is a concept that surrounds environmental policy. However its large adoption since the resurrection of green issues in the 1960s has lead to is its overuse and...
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